All across New Mexico, children, especially Hispanic children, grow up with a healthy terror of playing around nearby irrigation ditches, rivers and arroyos.  Grandmothers and mothers, bent on their own colloquial version of water safety, tell the tale of a weeping ghost-woman who, lost in her own grief, reaches out and drowns more and more unsuspecting children. According to some, she may also show up if you disrespect your elders.

Say what you want about the technique, but the tale likely has a more forceful impact than a practical lecture on drowning. Pennywise the Clown may have a bestselling novel along with appearing in one and a half (and counting) best selling movies, but when it comes to total number of kids scared, the antagonist from “IT” doesn’t even come close to La Llorona.

There are a few different versions about the origin of La Llorona’s story. The most common tale is of a woman named Maria who drowned her children in a river after her husband left her for a younger woman. She then drowns herself but is told she will not be admitted into Heaven until she can find her missing children. As with most urban legends, each story is told assuming the tale to having taken place in the nearby community. A common tale, La Llorona’s story can be found throughout Latin America and the American Southwest.

La Llorona has naturally inspired her share of movies and television shows, including a production by Bernadine Santistevan, a New Mexican woman who spent five years researching the tale and compiling information about her. Santistevan’s material can be found at www.lallorona.com.

Julia Heaton, who grew up in northern New Mexico, recalls mention of La Llorona (The Crying Woman) coming up regularly as a child. “We were threatened with her as a scary, witch-like hag who would like nothing better than to carry off naughty, willful children,” she reflected. “Got my attention!”

The Pecos River – source of water for farmers, or lair of a deadly creature from the netherworld?

Carlsbad residents declare that she has been most frequently seen near Lower Tansil Dam, though Julie Chester, co-owner of the “Pirates on the Pecos” attraction, declares that her cries have been heard much further up the river. “La Llorna is found everywhere in New Mexico,” noted Carlsbad resident Woods Houghton. “It’s how you keep kids from swimming in irrigation ditches…or is she flowing with the water?” Local retiree Larry Henderson proclaims that La Llorona may just make an appearance wherever we want her to. “Shades of the night and vapors of the day, La Llorona fills the imagination whenever a void exists….. viva la spirit of the soul!” he concluded.

Another more specific tale turned myth is based on a girl named La Malinche, who was born to a noble Aztec family in the 1500s. She gave birth to twin boys by Cortés, a Spanish conquistador. When Cortés told La Malinche he planned to return to Spain with another woman and the two boys she prayed to the Aztec gods for help. The gods told her that one of the two children would destroy her people. She fled with the children, ending their lives and her own when she was surrounded by Spanish soldiers, crying out, as she died, “Oh, hijos mios, (Oh, my children). A few years later, the woman’s ghost was reportedly seen on the nights of full moons, wandering the street wearing a white dress, a veil covering her face. Like La Llorona, La Malinche’s cries continue to terrorize anyone who sees or hears her weeping and wailing for her children near a body of water.